Hi Dr. McMahon,
First of all thank you so much for your website. There are countless resources out there about the troubles we face from climate change and peak oil. Yours is the only I’ve found that addresses what its like to be a compassionate, emotional human during such a crisis. Your website has really helped me.
I’m a 24 year old artistic type with lots of dreams for my life. As you well know the modern artistic lifestyle is completely dependent on the excesses of our current civilization (as are many other lifestyles). My working mediums are photography and film which stand almost no chance of survival. Art in general will most certainly be experiencing some difficult times ahead.
I’m not a religious person so I’m fairly accustomed to the search for meaning, but now that my career goals have gone away I feel like I truly have nothing. I’ve had life long ambitions that are now completely gone.
I’m not a hardcore survivalist and I understand that our society won’t completely disintegrate in a matter of seconds. But certainly it will be reduced to the point where I will become obsolete and my life might be in jeopardy if I don’t change who I am very soon.
I don’t want to take up too much of your time so my questions are these:
Is it crazy to try and pursue my artistic/career goals with the little time we have left? Suppose our current society really starts to break down in 5 years, that still leaves me some time. Is it stupid to stay on my current path Would I be living a complete lie like everyone else? Should I start hunkering down right now?
I realize how terribly selfish these questions are. It makes me feel sick and guilty that I want to turn my back on the truth. This is probably a feature common to those in my generation. If something is boring or scary then we just turn on the tv and ignore it.
I apologize if these questions have already been answered on your website. I’m certainly depressed about our situation but also hopeful. Assuming humanity survives our coming crises, perhaps we will be the better for it. Any guidance would be extremely appreciated.
Thank you again, Doctor.
Dear Life Questions,
Your letter touched me deeply, and I was reluctant to respond without thinking on it a while.
(1) Is it crazy to try and pursue my artistic/career goals with the little time we have left?
It is easy to get into an “all or nothing” mindset around these issues. Without your art, who are you? If you are like most artists, you create because you must. Artistic expression always has been a part of our culture, and always will be. You may choose to expand the types of medium in which you work, but it will stay a part of you. It must, if you are truly an artist.
There is going to be a lot to capture in the years ahead. There will be a lot to say that is best said in photography or film. I can’t comment on your skills and talents, and I don’t know the industry, but if you are planning to make a career out of it, you need to know it inside and out, and to know how economic hard times will effect it.
(2) Suppose our current society really starts to break down in 5 years, that still leaves me some time. Is it stupid to stay on my current path? Would I be living a complete lie like everyone else? Should I start hunkering down right now?
Again, these are not “either/or” questions. Focus on the decisions you must make WHETHER the culture breaks down in 5 years or NOT. You will find that even following this criteria, you’ll have plenty to do. I have no idea where you are professionally. I’m not sure if you are a student, or currently working in the field, and making a good income. If you are a student, I don’t know if you are yearly getting deeper in debt or have the resources to pay for your education. These are important questions that will direct my answers.
If you are currently making an income doing your art, by all means continue, until you have something equally lucrative to replace it. With an income, you can begin to experiment with developing other skills, and gathering some of the essentials you need, . Look to develop skills in central areas of life, and get physically fit. Learn techniques to manage your stress.
I’m not sure what you mean by “hunkering down.” You should evaluate where you are living, where you get your food, electricity, heat, water, etc. Each area is going to present special challenges, some more pressing in some areas than in others. You might live in a city, but have a huge extended family around you. This is going to be a different situation than a man who lives without family in a city, but has family in a rural area who will welcome him home at some point. Take yourself “heart attack” serious, LQ, and make plans, but don’t kill that humorous or artistic side. Lay it all out for yourself. Put it down on paper. Design a situation (in a movie script, if you want) and play out the possible logical consequences to each of the choices you make, that alters the scenario. Ask someone else, who doesn’t have your understanding of PO/Climate change/Economic collapse, to give you an alternate ending that’s believable. You need new ideas, where ever you can find them. In addition, you also need other people around you to validate your reality and who are actually doing things that you think are constructive. People on the internet aren’t adequate. You need real belly-to-belly interactions.
“I realize how terribly selfish these questions are. It makes me feel sick and guilty that I want to turn my back on the truth. This is probably a feature common to those in my generation. If something is boring or scary then we just turn on the tv and ignore it.”
These aren’t selfish questions. They are the questions of an entire world/generation. If you don’t answer them for yourself, you are expecting someone else to just “take care” of it, and that’s not smart. Watch the amount of time you spend doing “mindless” activities to distract yourself, and get a handle on it. Don’t expect you are going to know what else to do with yourself without trying new things. Never let your art drop completely, just integrate it into other things you are doing or learning.
Never give up dreaming, LQ. Just recognize that dreams can and do transform. Start somewhere, and do something every day. You don’t have to go from 60 mph in your artistic endeavors to 0 mph. Try to find a way to broaden your interests to correspond more closely to what you believe is coming. You, and your generation have to live it, live through it. If that reality makes most of you veg out and sink into escapism, that’s understandable. Temper that tendency in yourself, and create a new dream where you get to express that sensitive, emotional artistic side of yourself in ways that keep you on track for where you think the world is headed. Create options for yourself, instead of plans, because no one can accurately predict the future. Think in terms of “if this happens, I’ll do this. If that happens, I’ll do this other thing.” If you find yourself thinking in extremes, break the pattern. The ones that will best prepare for the future are the flexible people among us, and the ones that can handle the tremendous pressure and tedium of a slow grinding decline, combined with sudden downward spins. Expect things to change in unexpected ways, and stay nimble. Play ball on running water. Don’t commit too heavily to a future that locks you in, economically, time-wise, or skill-wise. Develop many ‘hobbies’ (the way some people prefer to refer to them to others…). Keep your options open, and diversify them as much as you can.
That’s my best advise, friend. If you want to share more specifics, I’m happy to offer you more detailed notions.
Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your efforts to heal and repair the world. We need you.
All of us do.